City Circle

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City Circle
Tangara T Car Set.jpg
A Tangara at Circular Quay (in July 2013), the halfway point of the City Circle.
OwnerTransport Asset Holding Entity
ServicesT2 Inner West & Leppington Line
T3 Bankstown Line
T8 Airport & South Line
Operator(s)Sydney Trains
Opened20 December 1926 (1926-12-20) (first segment)
22 January 1956 (1956-01-22) (entire loop)
Line length6 km (3.7 mi)
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge
The original railway network for the Sydney CBD planned by John Bradfield, (left) and the network as it is today. The City Circle was built as planned and the Eastern Suburbs railway was built to a different alignment, though the Northern Beaches and Southern Suburbs line was never built.

The City Circle is a mostly-underground railway line located mostly in the Sydney central business district or Sydney CBD, in New South Wales, Australia, that forms the core of Sydney's passenger rail network. The lines are owned by the Transport Asset Holding Entity, a State government agency, and operated under Transport for NSW's Sydney Trains brand. Despite its name, the City Circle is of a horseshoe shape, with trains operating in a U-shaped pattern. The constituent stations of the Circle are (clockwise): Central, Town Hall, Wynyard, Circular Quay, St James, Museum and back to Central.

History and description[edit]

The original concept for the City Railway was part of a report dated 1915 submitted to the government by chief railway engineer, John Bradfield, upon his return from overseas study,[1] with work commencing the following year. His concepts were largely based on the New York City Subway, which he observed during his time in New York City.[2][3]

Built in stages, the first City Circle stations to open were the heritage-listed[4] Museum and St James, which both opened in 1926 as part of the initial electrification of Sydney railways. Next was the "western limb" through Town Hall and Wynyard, which opened in 1932 in conjunction with the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This section contains four tunnels. Two connected to the Harbour Bridge, while the two City Circle tunnels terminated at Wynyard. In 1956 the dead ends at St. James and Wynyard were joined and the "missing link", Circular Quay – was opened. Central and Circular Quay stations are above-ground (Circular Quay is elevated, directly underneath the Cahill Expressway), while the remainder are underground. Several unused railway tunnels also exist. The former tram tunnels at Wynyard, and other stub tunnels at St James are well known.

The City Circle is double track throughout, although it forms four tracks at Central as there are two ends of the same track. The outer track is known as the "City Outer" and is used by trains travelling clockwise around the City Circle. In the direction of travel it passes through Central platform 17, Town Hall platform 6, Wynyard platform 6, Circular Quay platform 2, St James platform 2, Museum platform 2. Trains can then either proceed to Central platform 22 or 23, depending on which line they are running on. Similarly, the inner track is known as the "City Inner" and is used by trains travelling anti-clockwise. It starts from Central platform 20 or 21, again depending on which line a train is coming from. It then passes through Museum platform 1, St James platform 1, Circular Quay platform 1, Wynyard platform 5, Town Hall platform 1 then Central platform 19.

Services and operations[edit]

The current service patterns generally consist of trains from the Bankstown Line and the Inner West & Leppington Line operating via the City Circle Outer. Trains from the Airport & South Line generally operate via the City Circle Inner. Some Bankstown line trains also operate via the City Circle Inner on weekdays, especially during peak hours. A set of flying junctions at Central enable this pattern to be varied.

Prior to the integration of the Eastern Suburbs line into the Illawarra Line in 1980, Illawarra line trains also operated around the City Circle.

Trains on the Western and Northern lines usually do not proceed around the City Circle but instead, proceed across the Harbour Bridge to the North Shore line and vice versa.

Speed control and reduced overlap[edit]

For more information about signalling, see Australian railway signalling
Up until the City Circle Resignalling of the 1990s, the western stations of the line were signalling such that a following train could enter the platform while the previous train was still departing. The signal granting access to the platform would show a restrictive aspect (probably calling-on - red over red over small amber - which indicates that the train can proceed but the block is not necessarily clear) and train stops spread along the platform would control the speed of the following train. This allowed these stations to deal with 42 trains per hour in either direction provided sub 40 second dwell times. The 1990s resignalling changed the older eastern stations to follow a similar operation. At some point the system was changed again to provide additional safety. Signals on the City Circle can no longer display a calling-on aspect, but can display low-speed (red over red over small green - which means that the block is clear but to proceed slowly, not exceeding 25 kilometres per hour (16 mph)). Consequently, trains can no longer enter the platform while a previous train is departing and the system cannot handle more than 20 trains per hour.

An animated image showing the system in action
Original 1932 operation of speed controlled trips on the City Circle.


The line has six stations.

Name Code Distance from
Central (km)
Opened Notes
km mi
Central SBO 0 0 28 February 1855 [5][6][7]
Town Hall THL 1.21 0.75 28 February 1932 [6]
Wynyard WYD 2.05 1.27 28 February 1932 [8]
Circular Quay CQY 2.97 1.85 22 January 1956 [9]
St James SAJ 4.4 2.7 20 December 1926 [10][11]
Museum MSM 4.99 3.10 20 December 1926 [11][12][4]
After Museum, the line loops back to Central


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wylie, R. F. (June 1971). "50 Years – A Long Time". Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin: 140–143.
  2. ^ "Housing can deliver John Bradfield's vision". The Daily Telegraph. 4 November 2014. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  3. ^ "A once-visionary rail plan for Sydney lost in time". The Daily Telegraph. 29 October 2014. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Museum railway station". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage.
  5. ^ Bozier, Rolfe, "New South Wales Railways: NSW Station Codes". Retrieved 19 June 2002.
  6. ^ a b Forsyth, J. H., ed. (1988–1993). "Main Suburban & Branches – Illawarra & Branches". Stations & Tracks. Sydney: State Rail Authority of New South Wales. 1: 42–44. The Eastern Suburbs Railway platforms for Town Hall and Central stations opened 23 June 1979.
  7. ^ Forsyth, J. H., ed. (1988–1993). "Main Suburban & Branches – Illawarra & Branches". Stations & Tracks. Sydney: State Rail Authority of New South Wales. 1: 42–44, 101–128, 206–208, passim, except where noted.
  8. ^ Wynyard Station
  9. ^ Circular Quay Station
  10. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 21 December 1926 pp. 11-12
  11. ^ a b "60 Years Ago". Railway Digest: 398. December 1986.
  12. ^ Museum Station

External links[edit]